Peace May Be On Hold, But Colombia's Rebels Are Eager To Become Civilians : Parallels FARC rebels are awaiting the day when they can put down their weapons. In the meantime, they've become more sedentary. Some guerrillas have gained weight from inactivity. Others are expecting babies.
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Peace May Be On Hold, But Colombia's Rebels Are Eager To Become Civilians

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Peace May Be On Hold, But Colombia's Rebels Are Eager To Become Civilians

Peace May Be On Hold, But Colombia's Rebels Are Eager To Become Civilians

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK, now to the nation of Colombia, where Marxist guerrillas say they are ready to lay down their weapons. But there's a hitch here. In a binding referendum this month, voters rejected a peace accord to end the 52-year-old war there. Nonetheless, the guerrillas are pushing ahead with plans for their new lives in a post-war Colombia, as reporter John Otis tells us.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: (Speaking Spanish).

IVAN MERCHAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Ivan Merchan's body could use a break. During his 30 years fighting for the guerrilla group known as the FARC, Merchan tells me he's been shot 12 times. His arms and legs are a mass of scar tissue.

MERCHAN: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: So it's not surprising that Merchan and about 250 other rebels at this FARC camp in southern Colombia want a definitive end to the war. For that to happen, President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leaders must cut a deal with conservative politicians who led the campaign against the peace agreement. They claim it provides the rebels with too many benefits. In the meantime, the guerrillas seem to be slowly morphing into civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In the past, leaving one's weapon unattended merited stiff sanctions, like ditch-digging. But about half the guerrillas stroll around the camp unarmed. The day's main activity is a lecture about politics.

FEDERICO NARINO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Speaking beneath a plastic tarp during a downpour, Federico Narino, a mid-level commander, outlines plans for the FARC to form a left-wing political party once the rebels disarm.

NARINO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: He says, "comrades, we have to learn to express our political goals to the masses to win their votes." But if a new peace agreement emerges, the FARC could face rejection at the ballot box and in the job market. Many Colombians despise the rebels for carrying out massacres and kidnappings. Rank-and-file guerrillas have limited education and job skills.

SOLANGY RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Still, many guerrillas, like 27-year-old Solangy Ramirez, have big dreams. She joined the FARC at age 13, when her peasant farm family could no longer afford to send her to school.

RAMIREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Ramirez says she wants to attend medical school. She has loads of experience because as a guerrilla nurse, Ramirez has patched up hundreds of bullet and shrapnel wounds. FARC rebels are now facing a different set of health issues brought on by their newly sedentary lifestyle.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Speaking Spanish, laughter).

OTIS: With no military drills or marches, this rebel tells me he's put on 50 pounds. Some female guerrillas are expecting babies. That used to be prohibited in the FARC. And many pregnant rebels were forced to have abortions.

MILENA REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Now we can have the kids that we couldn't have during the war," says Milena Reyes, a FARC press attache. She adds that a bilateral cease-fire has made it safer to travel to FARC camps. That's opened the door to emotional family reunions.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Speaking Spanish).

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Reyes says she recently saw her father for the first time since she ran away from home to join the FARC 14 years ago. It was a taste of what a post-war Colombia might be like. And for Reyes, it was sweet.

REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: She says, "peace brings you back to life." For NPR News, I'm John Otis with the FARC guerrillas in southern Colombia.

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